Ex-Funeral Director Gets House Arrest for Giving Wrong Ashes to Families

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The former director of a central Missouri funeral home where rotting bodies were found in the basement was sentenced to 60 days of house arrest and five years of probation for intentionally giving the wrong ashes to grieving families.

Harold Warren Sr., 77, of Columbia, also was ordered Monday to pay restitution to the families and was barred from owning or operating a funeral home.

Warren and his son ran the Warren Funeral Chapel, which operated funeral homes in Columbia and Fulton, before the Missouri attorney general's office closed the business in July 2008. Investigators discovered a woman's body stored in an electrical room for 10 months without being embalmed or refrigerated. Seven more decaying bodies and a garbage bag filled with organs also were found.

Stewart Freilich, senior counsel for Attorney General Chris Koster, said during the hearing Monday that Warren acted "largely out of foolishness and incompetence" but was not a con man, The Columbia Tribune reported.

Warren's attorney, Dan Viets, said his client, who was the city's first black councilman and had been a leader in his church for decades, "feels the most intense shame, embarrassment and humiliation anyone can imagine."

One of 16 letters written to the court by Warren's supporters was from former Columbia Mayor Clyde Wilson.

Before sentencing Warren, Judge Gary Oxenhandler said he balanced the 16 letters against three from victims. One letter said: "Not even the devil himself can match Harold Warren when it comes to heartlessness."

Warren had faced as many as four years in prison after pleading guilty to felony charges of unlawful merchandising practices. Some of his victims expressed frustration Monday after Warren's sentence.

"I understand his age, but it doesn't matter how old you are when you commit a crime," said Kathy Johnson, who spent $1,400 to have her mother's body exhumed after she became suspicious of Warren's work.